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Meanwhile Gyffun and LosisOoor have been seeking for Gordangorl...

With a borrowed sword on his hip, a full pack on his back and an agreeable travelling companion by his side, Gyffun is in excellent humour. The sun shines down upon the damp and verdant glories of the Deep Gors, and the land exhales its moisture in a deep contented sigh, wreathing the low ground in a fine mist. The straightforward pleasures of striding through all of this natural beauty fill the skald's heart with a simple joy, and he cannot keep himself from humming merrily as they make the long ascent onto Sal's Ridge.

Their progress is swift, and they find themselves atop the ridge by early afternoon. Emerging from the dense trees into open country, the travellers turn to gaze back down the way that they have come. In the distance they can see the faint line of the Giant's Walk, and a small group of human-sized travellers creeping ant-like along it. Gyffun draws LosisiOoor's attention to the awesome spectacle on the far northern horizon.

"Look, my friend," he says. "There is Skyfall Lake. Do you still intend to seek for this thief of yours near there?"

"An oath is an oath, skald," says LosisiOor, "and this is the season for a Lodrili to show his hand. "There", he says, pointing at the Lake's edge, where a slight red mist can be seen. "See? It goes up where everything goes down, and I have my mark." Grinning to Gyffun, he says, "And now to yours...? I last saw him on this ridge, but only because I made my camp above his burrow."

"Then let us begin by finding that burrow," his companion suggests. "And hope that Gordangorl is still there."

They make good progress along the ridge, but identifying a half-remembered spot amidst the jumbled boulders and shattered rocks proves to be more difficult than expected. When at last the Darjini finds a spot that he recognises, they search it for signs of Gordangorl, but find no evidence that their quarry has ever been here. At length, LososiOor acknowledges that he must have been mistaken, and suggests that they retrace their steps and seek further along the ridge. After two further false starts, they eventually locate the place that they were seeking: a dry hollow sheltered by large boulders, with a well-concealed nook that LosisiOor had described as Gordagorl's burrow.

Further disappointment awaits them.

"Ah, I fear that he has not been here for some time," the Darjini says, looking crestfallen. "See? There are brambles growing across the entrance."

Gyffun sighs, and clambers up to take a seat on a boulder, scratching at his beard as he ponders their next move. By now, the sun is sinking inexorably towards the horizon. Glancing down at the lower slopes, he sees that the fine mist of morning has coalesced into a dense blanket of cloud, rendering the land almost featureless. Tendrils of cloud are already creeping up towards them, and the air grows chill. With the light already failing, the prospect of a more profound barrier to sight makes further searching futile.

Jumping down from his perch, Gyffun unshoulders his pack and sets about making a fire in the sheltered hollow. His companion wordlessly follows the skald's lead, and seats himself on a rock as he rummages in his own pack. Triumphantly removing his reed oboe, the little man grins up at his companion, whose face echoes his good humour.

"You are eager to continue our musical exploration, then?" Gyffun observes. "Excellent. I could do with something to lift my spirits..."


The remainder of the day passes swiftly in friendship and music, but the long night lingers, and both men huddle close to their modest fire for warmth. When dawn comes it is a pale and ghostly thing, as the sun fights feebly to penetrate the dense cloud that has enveloped them as they slept. The dewy touch on his face as he woke was enough to make Gyffun's heart sink, dispelling the good humour that the previous evening's entertainment had engendered.

Ill luck haunts us, the skald thinks, ruefully. How can we ever hope to find Gordangorl in this?

Just then, he hears a scatter of falling rocks from the hollow. Turning quickly, he spies a naked, wild, woad-covered man, who glares angrily at him for an instant before scrambling frantically through the brambles and fleeing along the ridge. Despite the telltale limp, the man runs like the wind, his feet barely touching the ground as he disappears into the mist. All LosisiOor can do is stare in astonishment, having checked that hollow quite carefully.

"Quick!" says Gyffun, scrambling to his feet and grabbing his pack. "Or we'll lose him!"

The thick white mist swirls around them as they rush after the fleeing figure. Spurred on by the occasional, tantalising glimpse of an indistinct form ahead, and the faint sound of distant bare feet slapping on the rock, they continue their pursuit, but Gyffun has a growing sense of danger. They are running along a ridge afer all...

His worst fears are realised when the sound of footfalls ahead suddenly ceases. Desperately trying to halt his headlong forward motion without falling on his face, the skald cries out in alarm, but it is too late. He has a momentary glimpse of LosisiOor's startled face turning back to look at him before the clouds swallow it up. Breathing heavily, Gyffun listens for the Darjini's footfalls, but an eerie silence has descended and all he can hear is the sound of his own heart.

"Crabsnatch!" he calls, chill with fear. "Are you there?"

A faint rebounding echo of his own voice floats back to taunt him. Just as despair is about to overwhelm him, a distant voice calls back.

"Yes, I'm here, although I'm not entirely sure where 'here' is. Why did you stop?"

Relief flooding over him, Gyffun replies: "I panicked, and thought that we were about to run over the edge!"

After a long pause, his friend's response floats back through the clouds.

"I think perhaps I did."


As Gyffun continues to prod cautiously at the seemingly insubstantial ground in front of him, LosisiOor explains that he had seen the figure they were chasing run this way, and only realised that something was amiss when he heard Gyffun cry out. At this point, he had also become aware of the strange consistency of the 'ground' beneath his feet and suddenly lost all interest in the pursuit. Although there is nothing to suggest that the phenomenon currently supporting his weight is about to fail, he cannot overcome a paralysing sense of vertigo.

"Well," the skald observes. "If you can stand on it, and Gordangorl - that was Gordangorl, wasn't it? - if he can run on it, then maybe we should stop worrying about it and see if we can follow him. Can you remember which way he went?"

The Darjini nods and points.

"Right, then." Gyffun tentatively extends a foot over the edge of the solid ground and tries to place some weight on it. Still meeting no resistance, he wobbles unsteadily backwards and tries to calm his feelings of vertigo before trying again. This time his foot sinks deeper into the cloud and ultimately comes to rest on a firm but yielding surface. Testing his weight on it, he summons the courage to place his other foot on this curious substance. His knees feel weak and his sense of balance is immediately disturbed, but after a few steps it becomes easier, and he soon reaches the terrified Darjini.

"Come on Crabsnatch," he says, trying to sound hearty. "Take my hand and let's get you back to solid ground."

His comrade looks surprised. "We are not going to follow Gordangorl?"

"Are you sure that would be wise?" the skald asks.

LosisOor considers this for a moment. "My fear tells me one thing, but my heart tells me another," he says. "I do not enjoy listening to my fear, but I would sooner endure its protests than follow its advice."

Gyffun grins broadly. "I've never been good at following advice, either. Very well, then: let's see where this cloud-walking takes us..."

It takes them through a swirling mist of half-remembered forms. Some are familiar to Gyffun, faces of his fellow Exiles, blustery Vizz and scarred Vurth, quiet, mangled Sabriel and a horde of tusked beasts, but some he has not seen, a glowing figure thrusting a knife into the clouds at his foot, a face below, screaming silently as if underwater, a beautiful queen sat on a throne. These are the memories of his companions, but Gyffun is drawn to his own.

It is not too different from walking through a silty riverbed as they make their slow progress, the Darjini now finding the going easier. But LosisiOor blurs from Gyffun's mind as his forward progress takes him backwards through his life. A rush of woodland friends and a flurry of angry faces at a moot; a queen of his own piercing his mind with a look; his father's face contorted with anger; a sad-eyed woman-child begging him to stay; an endless parade of strangers - some welcoming, some suspicious, some angry - from the clans that he visited with Orvan; the calm and smiling face of his mentor; a woman crouched in a briar patch.

Racing backwards in time as he wearily strides forwards atop the clouds, Gyffun reaches the moment of his birth. Time vanishes and all memories are one. The clouds turn black and lightning strikes a stand of trees. Gyffun and LosisiOor clasp one another's hands in fear as a swarm of gods and demons rush past and through them. Four of the Gods, their faces contorted in anger, for the briefest instant set upon another and flee taking his mind. And then... all is calm and Time returns, calming the storm and bringing peace to their hearts.

The sky clears. Far off across the clouds, the sun glints on the burnished faceplates of a helmed giant, a God sat in thought upon a rock, a woad-clad naked man crouched before him. Wide-eyed and trembling, the two mortals stare in wonder at this spectacle, and slowly begin to make their way towards the distant figures.

Gyffun's mind is awhirl with myths and stories, but the tales most closely associated with Sal's Ridge make the identity of this deity clear. For surely this must be Dar, the Chieftan of the Storm Tribe, and the four gods that they saw earlier were the Angry Gods that once ambushed him here. The scene before them now brings to mind Dar's other connection with the Ridge, however. What judgement does he consider, the skald wonders, and how does it concern Gordagorl?

LosisiOor pauses as his companion advances, feeling this is not his place. Besides, he has seen much and has much to consider. Gordangorl, sat below the rock, does not seem best pleased with Gyffun but makes no overt sign. All is silence, the god lost in an eternal thought, until eventually, he opens his mouth and, with a thunderous rumble which rolls across the clouds, makes his mind known.

"Yes", he booms, casting Gordangorl's face into a gloomy expression, but one tinged with relief.


Awed but intrigued by this mystifying turn of events, Gyffun watches the woad-covered man's reactions with interest, but makes no further move towards him. His thoughts are brimming over with questions, but Gordangorl's obvious displeasure makes him uncertain how to proceed. Once again he finds himself an unwitting actor in a great magical drama, and fears that he is about to stumble into even greater peril. Sinking to his knees, he bows his head before the divine presence, and searches within himself for guidance.

Remembering the vision of a smiling face that had visited him before, he tries to recall the patient teachings of Orvan Truevoice, whose homespun wisdom and simple piety had once helped to tame a wildling child. He contemplates the powerful wyrd that those teachings had eventually unleashed in the fledgling skald, and the oath that he had finally sworn to serve the Storm Skald, Drogarsi. He remembers feeling the edifying touch of the Sword Dancer during his initiation, and the sudden clarity of purpose that it had given him.

Eyes shining, Gyffun dares to raise his head again, but his newfound courage is soon wavering. Unbidden and unwanted, crowding into his mind, come all of the doubts and failures that have plagued him since that moment of clarity. He remembers the scorn of his proud father, which had only deepened into contempt when he was told his son's chosen profession. He recalls the gentle, healing balm of Erryni's love and, burning with shame, the wounding words with which he repaid her. And, ever-present in the mind of all the Exiles, he thinks of the Sixfold Fires and their terrible cost for his clan and his kin.

Most of all, he thinks of the other powers whose touch has changed his life: firstly Donandar, the Wandering Bard, whose unfettered love of music first inspired his chosen path, and whose guiding hand later aided him on his quest for the Harp of Thorns; and of course Velhara, the Lady of the Wild, in whose untamed dominion he had dwelt as a child, and whose savage beauty and wild gifts had continued to shape him as an adult.

He cannot deny the hold that these rivals to his sworn master have over him, and has always accepted that divided loyalties were his wyrd. Besides, there has ever been an understanding between the High God of Music and his son, Drogarsi, and the living instrument in Gyffun's pack embodies the divine compact that was drawn between the Storm Skald and his sworn servant's Wild Mistress. And yet his doubts remain, and now, faced with a challenge that seems to demand unswerving faith and clear allegiance, he once more feels unequal to the task.

Struggling to his feet, he glances towards the man at the giant figure's feet and tries to speak:

"Gordangorl, I... that is, we... need... I mean, request... I mean, humbly ask..."

Then his voice falters and his gaze is drawn inexorably upwards to face of the seated deity before them. Stern and impassive, the immense visage betrays no hint of acknowledgement, not even a tacit recognition of the skald's presence. Crushed by the oppressive weight of this oblivious disregard, this unfeeling and unwitting rejection, Gyffun's fractured mind dwells once more upon the doubts that wait, hungrily, for his attention.

What if he had made a mistake? He thinks back to the quest of the Harp of Thorns, wherein he had tried to take the role of his deity: this deity, in fact, albeit in another of his many guises. The Wild Mother had seemed to accept him in that role, though at first she called him 'child'. At the time he had taken the success of his endeavour to be a signal of Drogarsi's corresponding acceptance of his dual allegiance. That success, however, had hinged upon the intervention of another deity, in the guise of an androgynous harpist.

He knew the identity of this deity only too well, and the myriad tales of her nature and his deeds: Donandar, variously said to be the mother, the father or the brother of Drogarsi, Skovara and several other deities. As the inspiration of all musicians, and in particular those rootless wanderers who travel from stead to stead, Donandar had been Gyffun's first patron. Only through the diligent counsel of Orvan, and a growing desire to settle in one place, had he come instead to Drogarsi. Now he wondered whether this change of direction had been misguided, the product of his own confusion and Orvan's unswerving devotion to the Storm Skald.

What if the Harp, which he proudly described as the embodiment of a compact between the two deities who ruled his fate, was not quite what he had taken it to be? It is a covenant, yes, he is certain of that: a token of divine approval. But has he been mistaken about the identity of the two parties that granted that approval? Orvan had advised him to tread his own path, to find his own wyrd; perhaps he is only now beginning to comprehend the nature of the path that he had chosen.

Music defines my path, he thinks, but whose music? A sword dancer I may be, but is the Sword Dancer truly my inspiration? He feels an affinity for his musical powers, true, and for his exhilarating gifts of motion, but are these not also part of Donandar's domain? It is in the giddy whirl of the dance, and the exultation of song that his soul feels transported, not in the martial glories or tempestuous exhalations that are Drogarsi's signature. I have been a fool, he thinks. How could I not have seen this before?

Before the Gyffun can further contemplate the import of this revelation, however, his attention is drawn back to his present predicament, and to the peril in which his conflicted thoughts have placed him. The stern face of Dar is now darkening in anger, and Gordangorl is staring at him aghast. With sick apprehension, he glances at the clouds beneath his feet and sees them for what they are: all-too-insubstantial wisps of vapour.

With a last desperate look at Gordangorl, the skald plunges through the clouds and vanishes from sight.


Is it just his stomach he left behind, or was it his soul?

No ground had appeared beneath Gyffun, which was his fear. He had been unsure where down was as he didn't seem to be going in that direction. Hurtling through clouds, spun around in vengeful whirlwinds which left him breathless and caused his head to pound, he had finally been caught in a skein of fine threads and there he lies. His journey over, it occurs to him that he has not travelled down or up, or left or right, but from one destiny to another, from one interpretation of the world to another.

What does a mortal see when he beholds a god? How does a mortal perceive the fabric of the universe?

The being which Gyffun beholds has such an immensity and such an unfathomable nature that he can only ascribe one form. The fabric which holds him has only one worldly parallel. Gyffun is caught in a web. A web which responds to his every movement with a quivering dance of waves and a resonant chord made of a thousand notes. And before him are a thousand spider eyes, each one reflecting a different future for him, and a thousand spider legs, each one responding in a different way to his movements, through the fibres which connect him to the god.

For a moment, or perhaps an aeon, Gyffun is content merely to drink in the multi-sensory spectacle before him, untroubled by the fact that he has stopped breathing and the possible implications of his delicious predicament. Then, entranced by the unconscious music that his mere presence seems to be producing in the web, his irrepressible creative urges take over and he is no longer satisfied with the role of audience in this performance.

Tentatively, he experiments with the effects that can be produced by conscious interaction with the strands. Wild, coruscuating rhythms of synaesthetic discordance are the initial result, washing over him in waves of brightly-coloured sound and a deafening perfume of orange-blossom. Reeling and trying in vain to suppress his nausea, Gyffun is engulfed in a whirling maelstrom of sensory feedback, and for uncountable moments is unable to do anything more than ride out the storm.

His next attempt is no more musical, but much less intense, and he proceeds cautiously with miniscule movements. The merest blink of an eye is enough to unleash a torrent of sickeningly sweet sound; a quirk of the lips produces a softly-textured blue-green odour that reminds him of birdsong. Gradually, with extravangant patience, he learns to refine these individual noises, valiantly resisting the overwhelming desire to combine them in anything more than simple harmonic progressions. Only when feels that he has mastered the most basic principles does he attempt to put these new skills to use.

The myriad strands now seem to have been transformed into an impossibly multiplied harp, with the skald acting both as the harpist and as a part of the instrument. Although he has remained keenly aware of the presence of the deity that is the source of these threads, only now does he feel able to address this vast entity. Humbly, falteringly, he tries to communicate his deep and joyful awe to It in the synaesthetic meta-language of the web, improvising a rudimentary syntax from the few infantile phrases that he has so painstakingly learnt to articulate. Gradually growing in confidence, he adds more and more expression to this humble litany, until his entire being is enraptured in a joyful hymn of inarticulate praise.

The ripples he has broadcast flow outwards, sparking waves of colour, of music, of smells. Joining one another in a resonant chord beneath the God, the strands build up into a gigantic wave which rolls at Gyffun and washes over him in an ecstatic burning of all his senses, drowning him in a flood of senses and emotions and restoring to him his breath. As the wave recedes, he is left with a single question in his mind, "What is your name, harpist?" is the God's question...

"I have many names, and they are all mine, but they do not tell who I am. I have many masks, and they are all mine, but they do not show my true face. As the Harpist of the Celestial Court I am called Hyraos; as the Storm Skald, my name is Drogarsi. Others name me Skovara, Molamin or Mercario, but those who know me best have a different name for me. I call myself by that name now, and set myself apart from the masks."

"I name myself: Music."